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Museum ships in Japan?

Hama

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Hope this is the right section to ask. Has anyone here been to visit the Mikasa, the Kaiyō Maru, or the Hikawa Maru? I'm really interested in visiting them if I get the chance to go to Japan and I'm curious what people's thoughts are on them? Is the historical information only presented in Japanese or are there some English translations too? Are the majority of the ships accessible to the public or just certain areas? Are there guides around who you can ask specific questions to or are visitors mostly on their own?
 
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Mike Cash

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I've been to the Mikasa-maru and Hikawa-maru. Each are valuable as they are the only surviving examples of their type of ship (pre-dreadnought battleship and 1930s ocean liner, respectively).

I haven't visited Mikasa since the 80s, I think. At the time you could roam the main deck and the gun deck and that was about it. It is no longer afloat, but grounded and surrounded by concrete to the waterline if I recall correctly.

The Hikawa is a fascinating visit if you like ships. Much more of the ship can be visited. If you want to get the most out of it, go alone so you can take as much time as you like wherever you like and not be hurried through it.

In Tokyo you can visit the Soya-maru, an old freighter that survived the war and went on to become an icebreaker and Antarctic research support/supply ship. It is currently temporarily closed to the public but it scheduled to be open again next April. It is located next to the Museum of Maritime Science, which sadly was closed to the public a few years ago.

Sōya (PL107) - Wikipedia

English material on each of these is available, but comparatively limited in scope compared to what is available in Japanese. I believe you're pretty much on your own as far as tour guides go.
 

Hama

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Ah yeah I remember hearing about the Sōya but I must have forgotten it. I think her design was altered a bit a decade or two after the war?

Thanks for the info on Mikasa and Hikawa. I've read up a fair bit on both their histories before so hopefully I can supplement whatever's missing on English signs there with my own memory...
I had heard that too about Mikasa being cemented in place. I think she also went under some touch-ups a few years ago. This article says some US sailors helped repaint her (http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=47862). Might be worth your trip back if you haven't seen her since the '80s.

Do you know how much has been done on the Hikawa to try and make her look like she was in her liner days? I've seen photos of a few of the passenger accomodation areas and they look pretty well done up, but I don't know about other areas like the bridge, passenger decks, crew's quarters, etc.
 

Mike Cash

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Hikawa's liner days were right up to the end of her service in about 1960, by which time air travel had pretty much killed off sea travel. I don't think she ever underwent any substantial modernization. Some small number of passenger accommodations can be viewed from the passageways but I don't think any can be entered. The bridge and main spaces (read "engineering spaces" for those not familiar with nautical terms) are open and may be walked through. Naturally, due to the dangerous nature of the multi-level layout of the engine room it has designated paths and one can't climb about like it was a jungle gym.

soya is small, cramped, and has uncomfortably low overheads. It was a fairly typical sized freighter back in its day, though, and I marvelled at the fact submarines were able to hit so many ships that small in the days of unguided torpedoes with no homing technology.
 

Hama

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Hikawa's liner days were right up to the end of her service in about 1960
Oh, I thought she was converted in to a hospital ship during the war...
What I meant by her liner days was her pre-war service, i.e. the golden age of ocean liners. Maybe I should've been more specific.

Some small number of passenger accommodations can be viewed from the passageways but I don't think any can be entered. The bridge and main spaces (read "engineering spaces" for those not familiar with nautical terms) are open and may be walked through. Naturally, due to the dangerous nature of the multi-level layout of the engine room it has designated paths and one can't climb about like it was a jungle gym.
Alright that sounds reasonable. Thanks for that info.

soya is small, cramped, and has uncomfortably low overheads. It was a fairly typical sized freighter back in its day

Yep, welcome to the world of merchant shipping. ;)
Some of the stories I've heard from my grandfather's days (around 1930s-40s) about conditions aboard freighters of the time might turn you off any career at sea. That was before things like containerisation or ratings being allowed separate cabins. Particularly during the Depression it seems they were trying to maximize the amount of goods they could cram in while minimizing on crewspace.

and I marvelled at the fact submarines were able to hit so many ships that small in the days of unguided torpedoes with no homing technology.
I recon Japan would have used whatever vessels they could get their hands on as the war dragged on, whatever size. Some countries like Ireland during WW2 that didn't have much of a merchant navy when the war broke out were even resorting to using little coasters for the run down to Lisbon before bigger vessels were acquired. I imagine that would have been no fun at all...
 
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